Don’t stop reading this if you are not an NBA fan. I’m not either. I don’t like hip-hop, I can’t understand tattoos, and 20 year-old millionaires make me queasy. But if you haven’t had the chance to watch the Denver Nuggets play a game this season, you need to.
As background for the uninitiated, for the last 7 years Denver was a dangerous but underachieving team led by superstar scorer Carmelo Anthony. Last season, Anthony expressed a preference to move to a larger market after his contract expired, so the Nuggets traded him to the NY Knicks in return for a cache of players and future draft picks. The trade left the Nuggets young and without a marquee player. But since that trade, the team has ripped off the third best record in the entire league.
There is no other way to put it. They are a bundle of fun to watch. Their lack of an anointed scorer means lots of sharing. It’s not unheard of for the team to have 5 different leading scorers in 5 consecutive games. Ironically, I hate today’s NBA because of the superstar trend. Too many times a team will set up at half court so their “Carmelo” can get the ball and work a one-on-one play against his man. Yawn. Not the Nuggets. The ball moves constantly. But even with the distributed contributions, they are the top scoring team in the league. The only other team even close to them is the superstar-laden Miami Heat, who by the way were the runaway favorites to win the title entering the season.
The team is also very young and ridiculously deep. Where other teams run opportunistically, the Nuggets leverage their youth and run constantly. I almost feel bad for teams on the dirty end of a back-to-back when they have to survive the 4th quarter in Denver. I strongly suspect the Nuggets lead the league in vomiting by opponents. And their depth gives them furious rotations of fresh and hungry players. Coach George Karl has to be the envy of other coaches in this regard. Where players on other teams elect to defer defense until the post season, the Denver players can’t afford that luxury. The implied message from Karl is clear, “You are all young, and you need playing time to build your résumés. So, I strongly advise you to play your ass off every time you get in the game. If you don’t, there is a bench full of guys just like you who will gladly take your minutes. And then you can watch until one of them decides to take a shift off.” When the subs come in, it’s a madhouse of energy.
I was worried that the team was building its success on fast passing and hot outside shooting. If that is the case, there is always the risk that a cold night from outside can bury you. Last night, however, they dominated inside, scoring over 90 points in the paint. If you’re wondering how good that is, it set a new NBA record.
There is also a lot of speculation that while the Nuggets are a good regular season team, their lack of a “go to” scorer will hurt them in the post-season when defenses tighten up and points are harder to come by. A superstar scorer can pound the defense until he scores, is fouled or loosens up the defense for another player. I guess we’ll have to wait and see on that one.
In the meantime, carve out some time and watch this team. It’s entirely possible that the no-star, double point guard Nuggets are just an experiment that gets abandoned next off-season. In case that happens, don’t squander your chance to watch an NBA you never expected.